Apple’s recent reveal of racially diverse emojis has brought social justice into the technological picture.
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Emojis, the small pictures used in text messages, range from the classic smiley face to a colorful heart. But until this year, there wasn’t any racial diversity among human emojis. Apple announced Wednesday that sometime this year the default human emoji will change from white to one that users can change to five different skin tones. The new icons are only on the beta release of iOS 8.3, which is currently only available to software developers.
Aliya Khan, a sophomore in philosophy, said she likes that Apple will be including diverse emojis. She said it’s important because “as an international company, Apple shouldn’t be profiling the image of a human as a white person.”
Emojis originated in Japan in 1999, before the advent of smartphones. Apple has been including emojis in its iOS products since 2011. There has been low-level agitation for more racially diverse human emojis since then.
The developer of the change is not Apple, but Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit organization that sets emoji standards. The skin tones they chose came from the Fitzpatrick scale, a measure for classifying human skin color in dermatology.
Khan said having one picture representing humanity limits the idea of what is considered a normal human.
“We shouldn’t be advocating a default image of what a person should look like,” Khan said.
The effects of racial representation in emojis, specifically, have not been studied. There are many other analyses and studies showing the impacts of racial diversity across media. The study of underrepresentation, looking at how non-majority and dominant groups are portrayed, has looked into other digital presentations of humanity, such as video games.
Matthew Johnson, the director of MediaSmarts, a nonprofit that focuses on media literacy programs, said that video game players who are not white or male “have to essentially leave some of their selves behind and take on this white/male identity in order to participate.”
Khan said she hopes these small steps in diversity mean that on some level “We’re breaking barriers across all cultures and nations. Hopefully, global interactions will be bringing people closer together.”
Along with the introduction of diverse human icons, Apple is introducing 32 new country flags and more family icons, including same-sex couples.